>As Del. Stephen C. "Steve" Shannon (D-35th) begins his first year in the Virginia House of Delegates, he faces a major hurdle this legislative session: reforming Virginia's tax structure.
"The biggest issue we're going to wrestle with this year is tax restructuring. That's going to dominate discussion over any other issue," Shannon said.
With the shadow of tax reform looming over legislators, the General Assembly convenes on Wednesday, Jan. 14, in Richmond, not only to discuss that potentially contentious issue but to introduce legislation pertinent to their districts and their parties. Like all of his peers, Shannon comes to Richmond fresh from winning his district's race in the November 2003 elections.
"As a freshman, one of my goals is to try develop long-term relationships with the Democrats and Republicans, not only from Northern Virginia but throughout the state. And those relationships will allow me to be a good policymaker beyond just the session," Shannon said.
Echoing many of his Northern Virginia colleagues, Shannon said he intends to ensure that Northern Virginia isn't adversely affected by any tax reform package that comes out of Richmond. Among his constituents' concerns are rising property taxes due to the increasing costs of maintaining the county's school system.
"I commend the governor for taking a long-term view of the commonwealth's needs," said Shannon, referring to a tax reform proposal Gov. Mark Warner (D) presented late last year. "With any sort of reform package, I want to make sure that we directly address reducing the burden of homeowners with the property tax and that we make sure that Northern Virginia isn't simply funneling money to other parts of the state."
Other priorities for Shannon include proposing public safety and child safety legislation, based on his past experience as a Fairfax County prosecutor and co-director of bringing the Amber Alert to the Washington metropolitan area. One bill proposes that law enforcement put data on missing children in the statewide database within two hours of an abduction.
"Credible data indicates that in approximately 80 percent of cases where a child is abducted and murdered, that murder takes place within the first three hours of the abduction. Time is of the essence," Shannon said. The legislation "won't cost anything, and it's a way of putting law enforcement on notice that we really need to get this information out the public more quickly."
Another bill Shannon intends to propose is in regard to truth in sentencing.
"Most people who are convicted of misdemeanors usually only serve half of their jail sentence. People who are convicted of felonies generally only serve 85 percent of their time. I think it's important that juries have better information before making sentencing recommendations to the judge," Shannon said.
Indeed, in December, town officials had presented Shannon and state senator Jeannemarie Devolites (R-34th) with a list of their key legislative concerns.
According to Vienna mayor Jane Seeman, the issues included restricting the parking of watercraft, boat trailers, motor homes and camping trailers, so that the restrictions match county standards; amending Subsection C of the Chesapeake Bay Preservation Act, so that the Attorney General's Office represents a locality if any legal action is brought against it due to its adoption or implementation of criteria; changing the road maintenance formula from lane mileage to amount of volume; continuing the photo red-light program, which will sunset in 2005; preserving the Business and Professional Tax; and supporting Herndon on its proposed consumer utility tax on mobile services.
"We try to be ahead of the game," explained Seeman in a December interview.